~ Poet: Akka Mahadevi ~

Akka Mahadevi eight centuries later

I don’t often share videos uploaded by someone other than the copyright holder, because chances are eventually they’ll get taken down and I’ll have a dead post. But these are too good to miss: five selections from Scribbles on Akka, a 60-minute film in Hindi and Kannada with English subtitles directed by Madhusree Dutta, with music by Ilayaraja, and starring Seema Biswas, Sabitri Heisnam, and Harish Khanna. Here’s a synopsis from Upperstall.com:

Scribbles on Akka is a short film on the life and work of the 12th century saint poet, Mahadevi Akka. Her radical poems, written with the female body as a metaphor, have been composed and picturised in contemporary musical language. Mahadevi, famed as Akka — elder sister, while leaving the domestic arena in search of God, also abandoned modesty and clothing. The film explores the meaning of this denial through the work of contem­porary artists and writers and testimonies of ordinary folks who nurtured her image through centuries in their folklores and oral literature. A celebration of rebellion, feminity and legacy down nine hundred years.

The female director writes,

The film is an exercise in building a bridge across eight hundred years. Mahadevi Akka, the poet, still influences the contemporary poets and painters. Mahadevi Akka, the deity, graces the packets of pickles and papads — prepared by ladies’ co-operatives. Mahadevi Akka, the legendary nude saint, adorns pinup posters and music cassette covers. The bridge is already there. But how did it happen?

Why women poets of feminist era obsessively write pieces of dialogues with Akka? Why a painter in Baroda incessantly paints various images of Akka? Why is she still marketable as a brand name? Who is she?

I don’t know, but I will say that the Indian filmmaking style seems tailor-made for videopoetry.

Emptiness by Akka Mahadevi

Click the four-arrows icon on the bottom right to watch this full-screen: a musical, modern-dance interpretation of a suite of poems by Akka Mahadevi, A.K.A. Mahadeviyakka, the great Saivite bhakti poet. These are Jane Hirshfield’s translations from the 12th-century Kannada. For more on Mahadevi, see Kristen McHenry’s Obscure Poets column on Mahadevi at Read Write Poem.

There’s full nudity in the last few minutes, so this may not be entirely work-safe, depending on where you work. Mahadevi, like many of her male counterparts in Indian ascetic practice, dispensed with clothes.

The description on Viddler gives the full credits:

Live performance, March 3, 2007, in New York City’s Dance New Amsterdam. Amy Pivar Dances presents Songs For Solo Dance and Voice. “Emptiness,” music by Paula M. Kimper, translation of Mahadeviyakka (India, 12thc.) by Jane Hirshfield. Amy Pivar – dancer/choreographer, Elaine Valby and Gilda Lyons – vocals, Paula M. Kimper – guitar. Video by Vanessa Scanlan.

Thirteen Mahadevi poems in English translation are available on the Poet Seers site.

Tomorrow: More Akka Mahadevi vachanas, as interpreted by a contemporary Indian filmmaker.